Green’s Dictionary of Slang

Jim Crow n.

also John Crow
[early 19C Kentucky plantation song with the chorus ‘Jump Jim Crow’ and the ‘black face’ entertainer Thomas Dartmouth Rice (1808–60), who first performed it in Louisville in 1828; its popularity in the UK followed Rice’s appearance at the Adelphi theatre in 1836, in a ‘farcical Burletta’ entitled ‘A Flight to America, or, Twelve Hours in New York’; for details see Hindley (1878) pp. 267ff.; note also Schele De Vere (1872): ‘We have no ballad and no song that can be called American. The nearest approach [...] was the dramatic song Jim Crow, brought out about the year 1835 by an enthusiastic Yankee on the boards of a theatre in New York; it created a sensation, for it was new in form and conception, and no doubt rendered still more attractive by the strange guise in which it was presented. It was quickly followed by several other songs of the same kind, such as Zip Coon, Longtailed Blue, Ole Virginny nebber tire, Settin’ on a Rail, etc [...] For a time this African inroad drove nearly every other song from the publisher’s store and the drawing-room’]

1. [early 19C+] a patronizing if not actively derog. generic term for a black person; also attrib.

2. [mid-19C] (Irish) a black person.

3. [mid-19C+] (also Jim Crowism) white racist discrimination against blacks and the Jim Crow laws that embody it; usu. attrib., as Jim Crow adj. (4)

4. [late 19C] (US) a small touring theatrical company.

In phrases

jump Jim Crow (v.)

1. [mid-19C] to reverse one’s political allegiance.

2. [mid-19C–1930s] to become agitated, to ‘hop around’; also attrib.

In exclamations

by the jumping Jim Crow!

used as an excl; a semi-euph. for Jesus! excl.